Tag Archives: Joss Whedon

“Suicide” ain’t painless, though Margot Robbie nearly saves the day

7 Aug

 

Harley Quinn suicide squad

You don’t have to be mad to work here, but… Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad

In further despatches from the Department of Faint Praise (see Star Trek: Beyond), Suicide Squad is not as bad as some reviews would lead you to think. That’s a long way from saying it’s actually good, since some of the reviews are real stinkers, but here’s what works:

* Margot Robbie is flat-out fantastic. Whenever she’s on screen, you feel anything could happen. She also, uniquely in recent DC films, looks like she’s having fun, which gives the audience licence to do so, too.

* And, actually, having set out to write a list of positive bullet points, I can’t think of another. Robbie’s performance alone is worth the price of the popcorn: her Harley Quinn is mercurial, flirtatious, conflicted, funny – and, like Hamlet, she is intriguingly but mad north-north-west . It makes you long for a Bonnie and Clyde-style spin-off movie with her and Jared Leto’s Joker (underused in Suicide Squad).

Will Smith is as charismatic as ever, but you feel his star power has got in the way: he plays Deadeye, the world’s most wanted hit-man, as a slushy sentimentalist who just wants his daughter to be proud of him – got forbid Smith should portray someone actually bad. None of the other characters are sufficiently developed amidst all the shooting and shouting to have much of anything interesting to recommend them.

You realise yet again what a great writer Joss Whedon is, to have juggled all the big personalities of the Avengers films, giving them all story arcs, intra-group conflicts, and some sense of an interior life. In Suicide Squad they are just a collection of characters in search of character.

Even by comic-book movie standards, the plot is banal: magical super-villain The Enchantress is presented first as all-powerful, but in the end is defeated far too easily. Plus Cara Delevingne, whose human alter-ego, Dr June Moon, is about as believable as an archaeologist as Denise Richards was as a nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough, is too slight a figure to carry off such a role.

And of course the film is shot in the Zack Snyder palette of dark and darker, whereas the subject matter surely called for something more day-glo.

I could go on. Bottom line, the first half of the film, in which the squad is being assembled, is really quite fun – though the imminent remake of The Magnificent Seven must be peed off at the lift. In the second half, frankly, I began to long for the closing credits to roll.

 

 

Advertisements

Captain America: Civil War has a little help from your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man

29 Apr

 

captain-america-civil-war-concept-art-poster

Did Harry Hill cause all this? Friends become foes in Captain America: Civil War

Early reviews of Captain America: Civil War have been such raves, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of disappointment. Certainly at the IMAX 3D five-minutes-past-midnight screening I went to last night in Leicester Square, the crowd whooped and stayed in droves till the Easter egg at the end of the long, long credits, despite it by then being long after 3am. And certainly it’s a lot better than Batman V Superman, whose premise it uncannily emulates: humans fear superhumans, try to put the dampeners on their tendency to destroy tall buildings with a single bound, and inter-superhero struggle results.

 

But I miss the light touch Joss Whedon brought to the first Avengers movie – an uncannily sure blend of focused plot, mighty action sequences, sparky dialogue, and sometimes unanticipated characterisation. The villainous plot behind Captain America: Civil War is, in the cold light of day, so contrived, silly and unreal to any genuine motivation as to be not remotely worth explaining. And though there are jokes, and thrilling action sequences, there’s little that feels really original or fresh.

Am I asking too much? It’s a sign of Marvel’s extraordinary output that I’m even expecting all these things in a comic-book blockbuster. Definitely it’s terrific fun and definitely it’s worth seeing, if you like this sort of thing; a four-star sort of rating. It takes off big time after a couple of hours, when some unexpected Marvel characters join the clash of clans – including a little help from your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, back with Marvel Studios at last and paving the way for yet another reboot of the franchise in 2017. It’s delicious seeing how each uses his or her special powers to counter the others’.

But to say it’s the best Marvel movie yet (© Empire magazine)? Let’s hope Marvel Studios have more tiger still left in the tank. 

Opposites attract: a spoiler-free comment on Avengers: Age of Ultron

24 Apr

avengers-age-of-ultron-group-banner-530x259

“Just one ticket?” I could hear the surprise in her voice. Seeing that I had heard it, she looked embarrassed. But I got that the ticket girl wasn’t saying “you sad man, seeing a film on your own” – if Ritzy staff can’t understand the joys of solo film appreciation, who can? – but rather, “you don’t have a child in tow? I mean, you do know this is a superhero movie?”

Lady, I was inhaling this superhero shit before yo’ mamma was born.

I’m sure I was more excited than the kids in the row behind me. At least, I didn’t see them bouncing in their seat the moment the Marvel logo came up on the big screen.

So does Avengers: Age of Ultron live up to expectations? Yeah. Not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Avengers Assemble, a little less cohesive in terms of plot, a little too CGI-tastic, but still huge fun and an incredible feat in juggling ten lead characters and giving them all a distinct voice. Joss Whedon won me over right from the outset: there’s this big chase and battle scene, and it’s all motorbikes and tanks and guns and flying shields and mystic hammers, and I’m like woah, too fast, too jerky, I can’t see, and Whedon knew we’d be thinking that, because that’s the moment he slo-moed everything way down, practically freeze-frame, for this beautifully choreographed comic-panel shot of the whole Avengers team flying or leaping through the air in their own individual styles.

I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot. Why spoil the anticipation? But I will say, in terms of script-writing lessons, look for how Whedon uses opposites to powerful effect. Stark vs his metal twin; peace-loving Banner vs ragenik Hulk; sentimental Natasha vs assassin Romanoff; peace vs war; saving life vs extinguishing it; even, at the climax, going up vs coming down. It’s an effective technique, and elaborated on brilliantly by BBC script guru John Yorke in his recent Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why we Tell Them. (Writers: buy it.)

If this is how the blockbuster summer begins, I’m all for it. Now roll on Mad Max.

Batman vs The Avengers

22 Dec

Image

Superheroes are currently locked in an epic struggle between the forces of darkness and the emissaries of light. I don’t mean good vs evil – I mean dark, depressing and dystopian, vs. primary-coloured escapist fantasy.

It was hard to imagine any superhero film topping Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series, which felt like the films we’d been waiting for ever since Frank Miller’s graphic novel appeared in 1986, and the last two of which made just over a billion dollars each. Then along came Marvel Avengers Assemble, with a staggering $1.5 billion ker-ching.

The reason for this blog? On the ferry to France, Batman and Avengers were playing simultaneously in the two on-board cinemas. I’d seen both before, natch. Which to choose for a second viewing? The culmination of a lifetime’s near-obsession, begun as a toddler, continuing with interviewing Adam West (http://www.dominicwells.com/journalist/west/) and then writing the first cover feature on the Tim Burton Batman? Or else the four-colour joys of Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble?

Slightly to my own surprise, Whedon won hands-down. To me, it’s an object lesson in screen-writing. It’s phenomenally hard to write a genuine ensemble piece which is generous to each character, but he pulls it off. We start with the Black Widow, tied to a chair and interrogated by sinister Russians. Then the penny drops for us, as well as the men, that she is interrogating them. The fight scene that follows, thrillingly choreographed as it is, is secondary to the message that this is a character with brains, as well as beauty and brawn. And that’s not all. Whedon piggy-backs on this scene to build up the next character: Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. That this fearlessly able woman is patently panicked at the thought of meeting him gives us a terrific feeling of anticipation before Mark Ruffalo even steps on screen.

And so it goes on, the dialogue fizzing like Aaron Sorkin in a cape.  Even Pepper Potts, in her brief time on screen, is given zingers that show she’s more than a match for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. The Hulk has two bits of laugh-out-loud visual slapstick. As for Captain America, Whedon makes even his boringness interesting: “These guys are basically Gods,” he is warned of Loki and Thor. He replies: “There’s only one God, ma’am. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”

And a special prize for sneaking the insult “You whingeing c**t” into a 12A movie – which is basically how Loki’s Shakespearean insult “mewling quim” translates. At Time Out, our Marketing Director once snuck the words “f***ing hell” past the censors in a radio ad for the magazine, when Victor Lewis-Smith spoke of the “four quenelles” in a restaurant. Call me immature, but this gives me a similar kick.

What’s all the more remarkable is that this was planned so long ago. Five years ago I interviewed Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios (see full interview at http://www.dominicwells.com/journalist/marvel/). Tired of franchising his best characters to studios who kept messing them up, or perhaps worse, succeeding with them (like Spiderman) and pocketing most of the profits, he staked the company on a $550 million loan to produce the blockbusters themselves. Avengers Assemble is the final pay-off for a bunch of movies, successful in their own right, that were effectively glorified marketing campaigns for this team-up.

So you can keep your dystopia. Even Alan Moore is bored of the angst-ridden heroes he helped create, as he told me in several interviews, and returned to the old-school fun of his boyhood in his series 1963. As for Superman being Nolanised next summer – the new trailer does look great, but I’m not sure I want a gloomy, introspective Man of Steel, all tarnished and bent out of shape.

…What do you think? Comments please!